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Democratic operative in western NY faces corruption charges

In this June 10, 2009, file photo, Steven

In this June 10, 2009, file photo, Steven Pigeon walks in a hallway at the Capitol in Albany. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

A Democratic operative with ties to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other key players in New York politics was arraigned Thursday in Buffalo on bribery and other corruption charges, officials announced.

G. Steven Pigeon pleaded not guilty to nine charges: two counts of bribery, six counts of rewarding official misconduct and one count of grand larceny, for the alleged extortion. The charges include offering favors and gifts worth more than $10,000 to Judge John Michalek — who pleaded guilty a day earlier as part of a plea deal to help the prosecution.

“Steve Pigeon engaged in a multiyear scheme to bribe a sitting state judge in an effort to win access and favors for his clients and associates,” State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in describing the joint state/federal probe.

Pigeon, 55, was released on bond after surrendering his passport. His attorney said Pigeon declined a plea offer and looked forward to trial. Pigeon is due back in court Sept. 12.

“He vehemently denies any wrongdoing,” defense attorney Paul Cambria said after the hearing.

Prosecutors allege Pigeon provided Michalek with box seats to two Buffalo Sabres hockey games and a $1,000-per-head political fundraiser while Pigeon had an interest in several civil cases before the judge. He also agreed to help Michalek pursue an appellate court appointment and to find jobs for two of the judge’s relatives, according to the indictment.

Pigeon has been a long-time influential figure in Western New York politics, including a stint as Erie County Democratic chairman. He was an advisor to Rochester-area billionaire Thomas Golisano, who ran unsuccessfully for governor three times. Golisano and Pigeon helped engineer a 2009 coup in the state Senate by facilitating the switch of four Democrats to the Republican caucus. Pigeon served as counsel to then-Majority Leader Pedro Espada. Though it upended state politics for a brief while, the coup didn’t last as two Democrats returned to the party fold.

Pigeon also was an early backer of Cuomo’s first run for governor in 2002 and been a longtime adviser on Western New York politics, according to the Buffalo News. The paper reported he gave $50,000 to the governor’s campaign in 2012.

According to the indictment, Michalek sought Pigeon’s help in getting an appointment to the Appellate Division, the state’s second-highest judicial venue. Michalek wrote: “Unc Steve . . . How’d you do with the Gov??? . . . ”

Pigeon responded: “Bunch happening . . . In Albany now . . . . Gov went well . . . Talked u up. . . . Let’s have coffee soon.”

Michalek never got the appointment. Investigators haven’t alleged that the Cuomo administration did anything wrong.

With wire reports

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